Alcohol Abuse Higher Two Years After Bariatric Surgery

A type of weight-loss surgery may be linked with greater alcohol dependence.

Patients who undergo Roux-en-Y surgery may be more susceptible to alcohol abuse following surgery, a study finds. (Photo: Sally Anscombe/Getty Images)

Jun 19, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

Researchers followed 1,945 people who had the weight-loss surgery at 10 U.S. hospitals. A number of factors were linked with a greater rate of alcohol abuse and dependence, which was substantially higher two years post-surgery compared to the first years before or after surgery.

One of those factors was undergoing a Roux-en-Y procedure, in which the stomach pouch is reduced in size and attached to the middle of the small intestine. Others included being male, younger, having less of a sense of belonging and having a history of smoking and drinking prior to surgery.

Rates of alcohol abuse went from 7.6 percent before surgery to 9.6 percent two years after undergoing the procedure. While that may seem like a small increase, the authors said it could translate into about 2,000 more people with alcohol dependence problems each year, “with accompanying personal, financial and societal costs.”

Researchers have a theory about why the two-year mark saw an increase in alcohol abuse: Patients may go back to previous drinking habits, and when they do, they’ll have more alcohol sensitivity due to the surgery, since the body absorbs alcohol faster.

The authors recommended that regardless of patients’ alcohol history they should be counseled about the possible effects of bariatric surgery on alcohol abuse. The study was published online this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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